Really rewards patience and the willingness to experiment with water. At first glance, I thought this would get 86 points at most. But after a while I got it.
On the nose, you get the yeasty, rougher side of Ben Nevis, cereal-and-barley-heavy and very close to the make. On the tongue it transforms, becoming very malty, honeyed, with floral and fruity aspects. Without water, you don't sense much cask influence, which is perfectly fine, but I still wonder why this wasn't left in the cask for a few more years. I'd wager it would've been even more impressive at 22 years or older.
Without water, it's not especially fruity to start with, and the alcohol feels a bit. Yeasty, fermentary, slightly lactic and raw. There's a mineralic, metallic, greasy-workshop kind of feel to it, which is both typically Ben Nevis and reminiscent of Campbeltown. With time, more herbal and arboreal notes come out. Pine needles, eukalyptus, camphor, mint. Gets even a bit grassy now. Certainly very characterful for its age, and almost completely distillate-driven. I had this at 86 initially, but with time and patience, it edged closer to 87 points, as some soft (but lovely) wood tones came out and the initial harshness was much reduced. However, it is only when water is added that this really comes into its own, with immaculate, super crisp refill bourbon oak notes that were almost completely absent in undiluted form.
Lovely, very sweet and intense arrival. In contrast to the nose, the alcohol is perfectly integrated here and doesn't burn at all. Okay, wow: this is much more coherent on the palate than on the nose, and the more accessible aspects of the Ben Nevis DNA are more present: heather honey, elderflower, even a bit of peach. It's also appropriately sooty, ashy and mineralic, with this impression of a walk on a rainy beach (wet sand and wet clothes) that I often get from "natural" Nevis bottlings. But most of all it's the sweetness that impresses me, perhaps because the (undiluted) nose seemed so much rawer and edgier.
Honey and herbs. Mead? Very warming, with a slight tickle from the high ABV. Pretty much no oak at all, only distillate sweetness.